10 new ways to let off steam and relax
1. Disconnect from technology
As much as we love and depend on technology to inform, entertain and connect us, constant bombardment by sounds and images creates its own form of stress. Unplug from everything for a while by turning off your phone, TV, computer and music -- and allow yourself to enjoy the silence. This might feel a bit strange at first, but your brain will quickly adjust and your stress level will go down.
2. Binaural beats
Leave it to technology to tap into our unconscious with binaural beats, a mix of low-frequency tones that your brain perceives as calming. There are many computer and smartphone apps that allow you to mix binaural beats with traditional or electronic music and nature sounds to create a custom-made mix that can help you relax your mind, let go of tension or fall asleep more easily.
3. Quickie meditation
For a respite from workday stress, look online for relief: the two-minute meditation. Choose from many online meditation options that include relaxing visuals and music -- or silence -- designed to help you let go of stress without a big-time commitment. Research shows that even a short respite from stress does good things for your body and brain. So the next time you feel tense, steal a couple of minutes for meditation and notice how much better you feel.
4. Music a new way
For generations, listening to music has been a popular way to relax. And now, ironically, the same technology that's blamed for adding to our stress offers a new way to reduce it: thousands of recordings, instantly available in the cloud. Check out world music, the classics and ethnic music to get in touch with your roots and let go of tension.
5. Plug into CES
Attach electrodes to your earlobes and let a very mild electrical current flow through your brain. It sounds a bit like science fiction, but Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES) has been around since the 1940's and approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration since 1978. The effectiveness of CES in treating anxiety is well-documented, and it's practiced by licensed counselors, naturopaths and other medical professionals.
6. Online games
One of the best things about smartphones and other mobile devices is that we now have instant access to hundreds of games -- and those games are great for the kind of mental stimulation that leads to relaxation. Whether you're playing Angry Birds, Words with Friends or Sporcle; alone, with someone sitting next to you, or with a friend halfway across the country, online games are a great way to turn stressful situations into oases of relaxation.
7. Flotation tank
Imagine floating in warm and highly buoyant salt water, with no distracting sights or sounds. At first your brain resists the lack of stimulation, and then it relaxes into a waking-sleep state. Flotation tanks, also known by more scientific-sounding names such as isolation or sensory-deprivation tanks, have been around since the 1950's, and studies in Sweden and the U.S. demonstrate that flotation subjects experience stress and pain reduction, along with lower blood pressure.
8. Go out and play
Give yourself permission to think like a kid again, and head to the playground. See how high you can fly on the swings, give the monkey bars another try, and practice your somersaults in the grass. If you can stop on the way for a bottle of bubble solution and a wand, so much the better. The idea here is to let your inner child go out to play.
9. Make some art
You don't have to be the next Picasso or Matisse to get the stress-busting benefits of drawing, painting, or some other act of creation. Make a collage from found objects, carve a piece of wood, or mold a pot from a lump of clay. If relaxation is your goal, then remember that the process is more important than the outcome, so silence your inner critic and start creating.
10. Create and preserve memories
Computer technology provides endless creative possibilities. Organize your family photos, make videos to share with friends, tweet and blog about social injustice or your latest vacation, trace your family tree, or start scrapbooking online. Such activities are not only rewarding in terms of what they produce, they are also very soothing and almost guaranteed to lower your stress level.